The Body in Sport - Part 3

author : Scott Tinley
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by Scott Tinley
  
Ironman World Champion, 1982 & 1985
Ironman Hall of Famer; Triathlon Hall of Famer

          In earlier versions of this series I've suggested that the body in sport is a vehicle for learning how we are in in the world, something to be enjoyed, cherished, and well-considered. I've noted that as endurance athletes we often abuse it but our bodies reward us all the same. The human body doesn't suck.

          Until it grows old.

          Aging up in sport is like inlaws: They come in all shapes and sizes and some you can stand to have around longer than others. With the injuries of age, for example, I don't know if the little teasers like a strained this and sprained that, a wrinkle here and sunspot there, all wrought through our obsession for fitness and submission to time are any better than the serious injuries that force us to put our feet up and actually read a book or talk with friends without worrying that we might be late for swim practice. But they cause us concern and remind us of the humanness of the human body.

          We do our best to push those days out beyond the horizon because the body really is an amazing thing. As fragile and resilient and wondrous as it is, it ain't perfect. Like ugly dogs and poorly written songs, it needs love. But we don't want to be a servant to them either. The toothpaste commercials remind us that youthful exuberance, well-oiled joints, and blinding smiles are an omnipotent refraction of health. Still, left to bake under that desert sun, the dry meatless skull holding those teeth in place, they'll bleach to the same shade. And we'll be long gone, your neighbor and you swapping old training stories and fish tales.

          It would be nice to know how to get old though. Without injuries.

          Now, you can certainly read the books and listen to the sod-busting silverbacks as they weave stories and swap lies down at the corner shop. But to truly know how to be an older jock with an injury you have to be, well...older.

          Fair enough, you might think. But is knowing how to gracefully surrender the things of youth a white flag wave of submission or a white light of wisdom?

          It seems that we are engaged in a temporal/ cultural arms race of sorts. As society continues to embrace all things young, a correlative supply of youth-making activities, diets, devices and drugs are meeting market demands. Or at least they allow us to look good enough in dim light and heavy rouge to convince a buyer. Currently we are at a push, with mutual detente the goal-old enough to borrow money, vote and drink but without the crow's feet, furrowed brow, and forced compromise. And while the boomers cling with desperation to the faux myth of twenty-something, pouring themselves into tight jeans, PT Cruisers, Botox and Blackberries, the Great Hands of Time sweep them further into this vicarious flirt with their past.

          Less than two hundred years ago, my age (late fortyish-something, sort of) would be considered a full life by most standards. Age has become a relative thing, however. And even though Time still moves at the same speed (give or take a few very minor adjustments) we move faster, racing from one time-saving meeting to another time-efficient, health-promoting workout; all the while trying to fend off the recasting of memory, that sure-fire road to the bane of rose-tinted nostalgia. Better that we save it all for the arm-chair years when we can re-wind the tape and tweak the results to our favor.

          Everybody loves old people. We just don't want to be one just yet.

          Shame on us though. How arrogant! How self-deceiving that we should force-tune our minds to a hip-hop score when classic rock or even Muzak is what our advancing cells crave. All we've done is create our own stereotypes, allowed Madison Ave. to be the architect of our desires and quite likely, increased our aging in the process. It's the tortoise and the hare with a Sisyphean sub-plot.

          Yet, not everyone lives with tin foil on their windows. Growing older as an athlete places you in the company of others who know how to walk that high wire of aging-up, how to live in a societal DMZ on a raft between the phalanxes of illusory youth and the rocky shores of unnecessary debilitation; a place that has to be earned, appreciated, and accepted. With a bit of wind, it can be a lovely sail.

          You've met them. They know the constellation of possibilities that come with titles like Grand Master and Kahuna. They don't freak out when a notice from the AARP arrives in the mail. They celebrate birthdays replete with enough candles to set off the smoke alarm. They reserve silicone for caulking the bathtub. They train less but smarter, refusing to consider their commitment to athleticism as one might be obligated to stations of the cross or a serial monogamous relationship with one route, one sport, one way to keep the blood flowing. Old, smart jocks worship Jimmy Buffet and grow older, not up. They are their own tribe of weathered refugees, happy to be in motion because their arterial flow is fueled not by the media or by golden-calf, ill-motivated, five hour bike rides. Only by the knowledge that they could do it and still be at their desks by noon, fresh and ready to design better widgets.

          It's hard to meld the past with the future, to exist in the moment with one foot in Gen-X and the other in gentrification. But sport is a kind of friction-free lubrication, a bridge that not so much spans time as it elongates the moments between then and now. Through sport we can play hop-scotch on the sidewalk and shun the dystopia of SUV-consciousness. Through sport we can wear those tight jeans because larger ones fall down and anything medium has a vanilla-taste. Through sport we can move laterally, dancing between worlds, generations, leaping as spawning salmon or bottom-lying, ageless catfish. Through sport we can move through time with grace instead of youthful rage or desolate, peri-menopausal cynicism.

          I suppose that learning how to know how is a life-long process. In the beginning you succeed on instinct. Closer to the end you win because you just don't give a damn. Ever wonder why kids and grandparents never tuck their shirts into their pants while the mid-term, over-achievers wear flip-top cell phones on leather belts that match their shoes? I'd like to think that I'm smarter than my training log, heart-rate monitor and rear-view mirror. I know that appearing objects are potentially larger than what I see or measure. And I pray that if I keep in shape with training by feel, ambition and some hopeful interpretation of dreams, I will be able to cast off the shackles of immaturity and arrive time and again at the place that I've come to know as the beginning.

          And if not, I can always pick up my ball and bat in a huff and storm off to the bingo parlor.



Scott Tinley won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.

Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.

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date: October 21, 2011

Author


Scott Tinley

As the sport of triathlon gained in popularity Scott turned pro in 1983. Between those early years and his move back to the amateur ranks in 1999, Tinley competed in over 400 triathlons, winning close to 100 of them, making him one of the top three winning triathletes of all time.

He won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.

Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.

Scott Tinley's Website

Author

avatarScott Tinley

As the sport of triathlon gained in popularity Scott turned pro in 1983. Between those early years and his move back to the amateur ranks in 1999, Tinley competed in over 400 triathlons, winning close to 100 of them, making him one of the top three winning triathletes of all time.

He won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.

Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.

Scott Tinley's Website

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